The modern trend to fewer cubic centimetres and more gear ratios continues as car manufacturers chase better fuel economy and lower emissions.
In reality the lifespan of a car is seven-eleven years, so on the day you drive that new model out of a dealer’s showroom some clever geek is working on a new model that will take four-six years to develop.
As well as creating a new look, incorporating the latest engines and transmissions and paying homage to the newest audio visual technologies, designers are having to pay special attention to handling and comfort as customers become increasingly more critical of these areas.
Once a design has been engineered, pre-production vehicles are handed to test engineers for final refinement, and testing. The Ford test facility at Lommel in Belgium is a good example.
Here a 1.5km test track replicates 100 different potholes and surfaces from 50 countries – speed bumps that can wreck suspensions if taken too quickly, cobblestones from Paris streets, typical Asian monsoon-swept roads with deep ruts, un-made roads that wreck wheel rims and burst tyres….
The diary of a test driver at this facility must include regular visits to an osteopath during the development of a new vehicle. They typically cover 5000 laps of the 1.5km test track during a development cycle, and encounter potholes up to 14cm deep, and at speeds of up to 70km/h. In six months of testing at the Lommel facility they can replicate 10 years of hard driving, or abuse, while using $1.4 million dollars of hi-tech equipment to record their findings.
So next time you hit a pothole on the Desert Road and shake your bones, give a thought for the man from Ford who has probably driven through a replica of the same hole 5000 times – and does it for a living. – Mark Daniel